CXO Guide to Writing an Effective Case Study
Sometimes abstract instructions just won’t do. Abstract discussions can be vague and difficult to follow, particularly when they involve complicated theories or principles. Instead, tying complex ideas to concrete examples can help audiences to understand what they are reading. That’s one reason that the case study has become such an important method for applying principles to hypothetical or real-world examples. By seeing abstract ideas applied in practice, readers can better understand how these principles function and the real-life consequences of specific decisions.
However, case studies are a bit tricky to write because they don’t simply tell the story of what happened. Instead, they are instructive narratives that outline specific issues, problems, or approaches. Let’s take a look at some of the key factors needed to write an effective case study.
But before we do, it’s important to make one important note: Case studies differ depending on the subject matter and purpose. A social science case study, for example, may revolve around the application of particular theories to understand a social situation, while a business case study might instead attempt to organize information in a way designed to provide a template for readers to take action in the real world. We are going to discuss some of the commonalities of many case studies.
1. Read and review all the relevant information. The first thing to do when asked to write an analysis of a case study is to read all of the documentation provided. Review the events listed in the case study and any supporting documentation that is given with the case study. Make sure you understand the events and have a command of what happened and in what order. If necessary, take notes and arrange information in chronological order to ensure that you can clearly determine cause and effect.
2. Identify the key issues and problems. Since the purpose of a case study is to consider problems and solutions, the most important step is to identify the specific problems that occur in the case study. Look at what went wrong, or areas where improvement are needed. Focus your analysis by considering the key issues and problems and generate hypotheses about why these issues occurred. What is the impact of each issue on the organization? Where does responsibility for the problem lie?
3. Propose possible solutions. Using what you have learned from your course reading or from outside research, identify specific theories or concepts that can help you to identify solutions to the problem. It’s generally a good idea to consider two to four potential solutions. By identifying solutions, you can then apply a range of options that will help you narrow down the best solution to the problems outlined in the case study. If you were to select your first guess at a solution without considering other options, you might not identify the best solution.
Now that you have completed the prewriting stage of the case study analysis, you can begin the process of writing the case study analysis itself. To do so, you’ll want to draft a case study analysis containing five key elements:
1. Introduction. Give a brief overview of the case, identify the problems, and present a thesis statement stating what your case study analysis will demonstrate or prove.
2. Background. Provide a detailed discussion of the facts of the case and the key issues involved. Where relevant, present a literature review to place the case in context and to establish your credibility as a thorough researcher.
3. Alternatives. Using the alternative solutions that you identified in the prewriting step, evaluate each as a potential solution to the case study. Explain the benefits and drawbacks of each course of action with relevant supporting research.
4. Proposed Solution. Highlight your specific solution and discuss and describe why it is the best alternative. Use evidence, research, and personal experiences to make the case that this solution is superior to all others.
5. Recommendations. Conclude the case study analysis with recommendations that you would implement to bring about your proposed solution. Be sure to identify not just what should be done but which stakeholders should be tasked with completing each recommended action.
Once you’ve covered these basic steps, you will have a powerful custom case study. Of course, you will need to adapt these basic steps to the details of your particular assignment and your subject area, but overall, this should place you in a great position to achieve your case study analysis goals and deliver a solid analysis that will impress your instructor.
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